Locked Doors

I got locked out of the house today. In Colombia. I had gone for a cup of coffee and a quick read (i.e. escape from reality) and when I came back, there was no one there and the door was locked. What was a gringa to do?

I knocked loudly on the door, bruising my knuckles and shouting ‘Cesar!’ through the barred doors. The only reply I heard were the echoes bouncing down the vast hallway. I walked around the large compound, wondering how difficult it would be to climb fences or pry open windows. Deciding that this was not an option, but having nothing else to do, I continued around the white stucco building and found myself at the ceramic shop owned by the neighbor and friend of my volunteer patron. I had been there before with the middle-aged Polish woman who also volunteered at Restauarante La Ruana.

“Buenos días,” I say timidly at the door, as Hernando bends intently over his work. He’s making ceramic masks of reyes Moiscas. These are the kings of the indigenous people of the region, called Moiscas. He’s painted them gold and aged them for the El Dorado festival coming up in a few days. They will be gifts for local politicians and other people of note who are attending.

He attempts a phone call to Cesar so I can get back into the house, but there is no answer. Well, I didn’t have any plans anyways. I stay and help smooth away the dark tinting that he’s used for the aging effect. The paint is sticky and gets underneath my fingernails, but I’m happy to have something to do with myself. The town of Guatavita is extraordinarily beautiful but it’s also quiet and moves at the pace of molasses. Most shops and cafes aren’t even open during the week, including my favorite coffee shop next door. After being on the move without relent for the past eight months, staying in one place makes me feel itchy and a little nervous. My thoughts are constantly traveling, although my body is staying put for the moment.


As if he can read my thoughts, Hernando asks how I like Guatavita and if I’m bored. He speaks no English and I speak really poor Spanish, but as we polish the golden Moisca masks, we find common words and we use our hands and our expressions as a language somewhere between the vast complexities of vocabulary and grammar. We even manage some jokes.

In Guatavita it’s cold but sunny, and a pale light streams through the grated windows in the little apartment that serves as both Hernando’s home and workshop. I feel a kind of peace with my hands preoccupied with physical tasks and my mind absorbed in stringing grammatically correct sentences together, still tripping over my words and even making offensive statements by accident. Apparently it’s not okay to call an elderly woman ‘vieja.’

I had planned to spend the day reading or writing, wandering aimlessly around the house, staring mystified at the nearby lake, or startling sheep in the hillsides. It was a pleasant surprise to find a new friend instead. When traveling, it’s always important to remember that when you find one door locked, there are many more that are open.



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